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Mark Shenton: Brits fared well in the Tony nominations, but there were some surprises

Caissie Levy and Patti Murin in Frozen. Photo: Deen van Meer Caissie Levy and Patti Murin in Frozen which received a surprisingly small amount of nominations. Photo: Deen van Meer
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In an admittedly sparser-than-usual year for Tony eligible shows – just 33 new shows opened on Broadway in the 2017/18 season, and only 30 of them were Tony eligible – British (or UK-based) nominees dominated in several key categories, when they were announced earlier this week.

Tony Awards 2018: the nominations in full

It’s no accident that we produce some of the world’s best stage actors – our drama training is rooted in theatre work, and even those actors who subsequently become film and television stars routinely return to their stage roots with some regularity.

Look, for instance, at the nominees for best actor in a play: four of the five nominees are British (or at least part-British). Andrew Garfield was born in California but raised in Britain and has dual citizenship, and is joined by Tom Hollander, Jamie Parker and Mark Rylance – all of them, including Garfield, reprising performances they originally gave in London in Angels in America, Travesties, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Farinelli and the King respectively; the sole Broadway-originated performance by an American is Denzel Washington in The Iceman Cometh.

Four of the five nominees for featured actress in a play, meanwhile, were also reprising performances first given in London: Susan Brown and the Irish-born Denise Gough in Angels in America, Noma Dumezweni in Harry Potter and Deborah Findlay in The Children, with only Laurie Metcalf in Three Tall Women originating on Broadway.

The British acting showing also continued into other categories, with Glenda Jackson nominated for leading actress in Three Tall Women, Harry Hadden-Paton for leading actor in a musical for My Fair Lady, and Anthony Boyle for featured actor in a play for Harry Potter. (The total tally of British and Irish actors nominated was 13, out of 39 performer nominations).

British creatives fared even better – with 18 nominations for directors, writers and designers, including four of the five nominees for best sound design (Adam Cork, Ian Dickinson, Gareth Fry and Tom Gibbons), and three of the five nominees for best lighting designer (Neil Austin, Paule Constable and Paul Russell).

Broadway is heavily reliant on British imports, especially of plays – as we are, of course, heavily reliant on Broadway imports to the West End for musicals. It’s a happy and healthy trade-off; but it’s also striking how the British lead creatives on one of Broadway’s biggest blockbusters of the year Frozen, director Michael Grandage and designer Christopher Oram, were both frozen out of the nominations process, with the show only getting a modest three nominations overall.

Read our interview with Frozen designer Christopher Oram

Of course, Broadway politics plays in to this – Broadway likes to reward its own (though both Grandage and Oram have been previously honoured). They also weren’t the only major snubs: it was interesting that Jack O’Brien, the director of the revival of Carousel, failed to be nominated, even though most of the other creatives that he oversaw were).

And Captain America star Chris Evans also failed to earn a nomination for his Broadway debut in Lobby Hero, though New York Times joint chief critic Jesse Green did suggest in a piece reflecting on the nominations that  “even Mr Evans’s moustache deserves an award”.

But the biggest surprises came with the record tally of 11 nominations for Angels in America – the highest ever earned by a play – instead of Harry Potter (which got 10 nominations), and the surprise front-running status overall of Mean Girls and SpongeBob SquarePants, which earned a dozen nominations each, but didn’t get the critical love of the season (that went instead to The Band’s Visit).

As usual, I will be back in New York on Tony day, June 10 – and will be reflecting on the final outcomes here.

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